Tuesday, September 22, 2009

on the road 'round bali...

Isabel riding on the bemo, the public bus, to the Bukit Peninsula. The doors never shut. Coconut.

- 5 days at Balangan Beach, Bukit Peninsula, South Bali (surfing much too big a wave, nose dives and reef scrapes)
- 2 nights in Kuta, Bali (waiting for friends to arrive and surf the smaller stuff...way too many tourists here)
-----rented bikes-----
- 2 nights in Medewi, Bali (good beginners' wave)
- 1 night in NW national park (snorkeling)
- 1 night back in Anturan (on the road to the east for a complete loop of the island)
- 2 nights left in Bali.

Isabel and I just left Balangan where we stayed with a family for 5 nights in a thatched bungalow on stilts above the beach. This was interesting when one morning we woke up to an earthquake, we looked at each other in disbelief and 20 seconds later it was done and we feel back asleep. This earthquake did make international news however, my friend Topher in Australia heard about it.
It was one of the prettiest beaches I have ever seen. At low tide a huge reef was exposed with vibrant green moss coating the volcanic looking rock. It was a true surfer hangout, if they weren't surfing, then they were staring intently at the waves, almost nervous to think they could see their perfect wave go by. Isabel and I rented boards at a beach on the other side of a cliff that has bright green grass on it for a golf course. The whole area is being encroached upon as resorts fill up the once rustic style beaches. You can hear bull dozers working as you sit in the water trying to catch waves. Surfing is really hard and pretty scary for me. The first wave I caught I nose dived into a reef, the board so long it awkwardly flailed on the end of my leg, and me so worried about getting thrown under water that I managed to keep my head above the wave the whole time!

After basically camping for 5 days (the home lost power almost all the nights because the family hadn't paid the electricity bill) and asking a member of the family to drive us to an ATM because we had no money to pay for anything, we made it back to dreaded Kuta to meet some friends flying in from Jakarta (teaching English). Kuta is just full of Australian and Europeans ready to club. We stopped at ground zero for the night club bombing in Kuta in 2002, and saw how the names of all those who died, a vast majority being Australians. It was nice to see a memorial and not another night club like there was talk about.

We met up with Nick and Heather, rented 2 motorbikes and started driving westward to Medewi, a wave that supposedly is good for beginners, not too big or fast and a beach landing. Turns out that post-Ramadan's vacation Idul Fitri was just ending and thousands of vacationers were driving back on the same road as us to the ferry in Java. That was a lot of traffic. We travel slowly with two people and a pack per bike, so it was a slow-going day of travel.

We drove right by Medewi at first because it wasn't a town, it was just a tiny alley street ending on the rocky beach. It reminded me how purely these random breaks around Bali sprang up little villages into money-making surf beacons for people from all over the world. Families who have lived here and fished here for ages are now barraged with surfers who need meals and rooms and boards.

These are the volcanoes in Java.

From Medewi we went to the Bali Barat National Park in the northwest. We stayed here a night and indulged in a mangrove bungalow and a half day snorkeling adventure off the coast towards Java. It's amazing how cheap things like this are here - $36 for the snorkel and lunch on the narrow wooden boat, in a protected national park.

Nick and Heather have gone back to Kuta, and Isabel and I are driving on the north coastal road all the way to the east coast. It's so fun being on a motorbike. We stopped today for a Coke on the side of the road. The Muslim owner of the stand asked us the usual..."where are you from, where are you going, have you been to bali?" which is not intrusive, it's just a getting to know you routine. We said we were from the USA, and he immediately said back, "Good, Obama, (with a thumbs up). Muslim, ya?"
We said no, he wasn't Muslim. (Btw, I had a dream last night that I was Obama's babysitter because their old one was kidnapped. I hang out with the girls all day and then he asked me if he could put my number on the fridge for later. I said sure and realized then that every surface in the kitchen was covered with chaulk boards and dry erase boards...for parents on the go! Strange.)
Then we asked if we could go see the monkey temple that was up some concrete steps on the side of a cliff by the road. He said yes and as we crossed the street he said "ten thousand!" (rupiahs, which is a dollar). I yelled back, "we're just looking!" and he waved his hand. People are extremely nice here and not resentful or conniving, and sometimes they try to see how much they can get out of you. Since we are American we immediately seem rich.

Scene as we are stopped on the roadside taking a break.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ubud - Balinese dancing and a midwives' clinic

The past 2 nights we spent in Ubud, "the cultural center" of Bali. It used to be a strong arts and market town, with local painting and traditional Balinese dance ceremonies. That attracted a strong expat community, and now the place is very commercialized and full of boutiques and stalls of people selling beautiful traditional batik-woven sarongs and cloths, wooden sculptures, and trinkets and chic Indonesian fashion.

We went to a Legong Dance at a temple last night that was incredible. The dances were shortened because they are so repetitive and long in real ceremonies for the Hindu gods or for traditional Balinese life. The girls were made up in ornate gold, dark green, and dark red costumes. They danced more with their eyes than their bodies, opening their eyes really wide and ominously moving them back and forth, and then relaxing their eyes. The women were bound up tight in their costumes so they couldn't move too much. They shook their hands really fast. I thought the dance seemed like a combination of indulgence and being morally alert.

This morning we walked through rice paddies and fields to a midwifery clinic called Yayasan Bumi Sehat (www.bumisehatbali.org). This place was started in 1994 by an American woman and has virtually ended infant and maternal deaths due to births on the island. While we were there there were 2 day old babies and their mothers doing reiki with some other people from he neighborhood. The place was very impressive - clean, orderly, humble and sweet. Another branch of the clinic moved to Aceh shortly after the tsunami and provided lots of relief there.

We've started playing rummy 500.

Musings from Anturan

from 9-13

We've been at the Gede homestay in Anturan for 3 nights now - it's so serene and idyllic here. I feel rather spoiled. It's a tiny street with 2 stores and 3 beachfront restaurants. The tuna and mahi mahi have both been grilled in banana leaves and seasoned in balinese spices. Isabel and I have been reading all day - getting lost in our books, ignoring the sweat on our stomachs and the burns on our thighs.

Chickens peck at specks on the black sand, and finally the cluster of women has stopped heckling us with their tacky jewelry and sarongs. Days pass so quickly while we've done little. I ask myself why I come so far away from home to sit on a beach and read, but I know it's not this simple. The challenges and idiosyncrasies run deeper than surface and will stay with me.

The contentness of the women on the slow-moving beach, under trees, scoping up and down for buyers. The old woman, skinny and flexible, with a large white tshirt and a small straw bag, washing her mouth out with water and spitting. Speaking to a male companion. A rooster crows. Wooden chimes, unrelenting and cliche. A lone German eats a lunch at noon in the restaurant. He just returned from the book shop to re-amp for the day-lazing.

Isabel and I dined with 2 German girls last night...proud to show them our fresh-thinking yet not unique American perspectives on public transportation in cities. An urban planner and a freelancer for graphic design at The Daily Mirror of Berlin, interested and goofy and almost middle-aged.

Isabel and I got a ride on a motorcycle offered up by a passerby and scooted slowly home, getting surpassed by truckloads and fast motorcycles. Our driver prided himself on his slow and careful pace - now that he had 2 livs behind him.

Isabel's enraptured in Prince of Tides now. I have a $3 massage in an hour. Class, Isabel would say. Only 200 meters inland the main road bustles with bikes and bemos - smog and heat rising from sewers - produce markets getting flushed with exhaust and smoke.

I look at a white couple who has just planted themselves at the cafe where I am supposed to have a massage. Blonde ponytails, big sunglasses.

Now the only lady has sauntered over to the French couple who woke up late and looked grumpy at breakfast. They sit under the sun and reject her proposals, "sarongs...cheap price. massage..cheap price. " The woman's tempted, the man, a techno DJ, unaware completely.

Success! The blonde runs to the shade while the old woman snappily sets up a massage station in the sand. Smiles, glances to her husband who just panted up to the shade where I sit, feet scorched from the black sand.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Bali is throbbing with tourists, Balinese, flowers, and old and crumbling temples and stone walls throughout. So far I have landed in Denpasar, spent a night Seminyak (right outside of Kuta), 2 nights in a central town called Bedegul in the mountains, and 3 nights in a northern beach town called Anturan (right ouside Lovina). Today I have finally found internet! I didn't think an island so used to tourists and catering to tourist needs would lack internet and I was happy to learn that it did.

Bali is awesome - it's paradise. It's filled with big beaches and giant surf in the south, quaint quiet towns in the north, where I am now, and mountains in between. The southern central coast is swamped with tourists in skimpy bathing suits "showing more than I'd like to see!" one German friend put it. So Isabel, a friend from high school, and I immediately drove north to the mountains first to get out of the crowds and see some of non-coastal Bali. Regardless of where you are on Bali, the locals are used to tourists and trying to make a dime. Since the Kuta bombings of a night club in 2006, tourism here has slowed down, locals have told me. They are eager to drive you to guest houses and hotels of their friends, who then give them a commission, and then recommend tons of tours of temples and waterfalls, or places to rent motorcycles and cars, and the list never ends. Each town there is a monopoly of people connecting hostels to tours to restaurants and taxis. It takes a lot of willpower to turn them away and do things yourself! The locals can easily convince you that you can't do something alone, like walk 10 minutes to a temple on the water! You start second-guessing your skills and then paying for a boat ride to get there! This actually turned into a really fun boat ride from a Hindu temple to the middle of the misty, magical looking lake for a swim and making a new friend from Germany, Helgue.

Bedegul, this mountain town, was a little eerie though and lacking many tourists, it felt like a place out of time beacuse the fog hung down so lowly and the air was chilly and grey. The people were a little poorer but much more honest-seeming than people on the beach capitalizing.

Now we are in a tiny village named Anturan, right outside the larger Lovina. It's a black sand beach littered with fishing boats all quaintly painted different colors. Chickens, dogs and cats scavenge the beach though and there are trash piles every so often and strings of rustic beach shacks along the coast. Beautiful flowers pink red and orange grow everywhere and overflow into corridors through the towns and even grow out of the gutter. The local people seem happy and slower paced here, true island time. Women sit on the beach and try and sell sarongs and bracelets and massages for $5 an hour. Men orchestrate the monopoly of tourist services. Nights in guest houses are about $5 for me and $10 for the room. Dinners are about $8, and chartered taxis from town to town (2 hr rides) are $20 total.
There is a large dead reef here because in the 90s locals would bomb the water for fish. Now the fishing boats leave around 4pm and go fish for mackerel. They bob up and down at night like lanterns on the water and don't come back until 11 or so. December will bring the tuna and maybe some marlin.
I had some really good mahi mahi yesterday grilled with spicy greens and cabbage and a big pile of rice and tempeh. It's refreshing to find light and good flavorful food. A lot of places are not so good and try to westernize themselves with pad thai or even spaghetti etc.
isabel and i are getting along great. we both like the quiet but are also itching to start surfing so we will have tomove to the more crowded beaches.

Bali is 5% Muslim and about 60% Hindu. Ramadan is happening now so the Muslim are fasting. In a week or so, for Ede, Bali anticipates large crowds from Java or Jakarta coming to vacation. The call to prayer in the early mornings is waning and beautiful and long. Besides the traditional professional roles of women and men here, the women seem to share priveleges. I see women driving on motorcycles everywhere along with men. Both sexes speak a lot of English, at least enough to sell the latest tourist gimmick or have a short conversation!

So far I have met lots of Germans, Austrians, some French and Dutch, and no Americans, which isn't that surprising as America is so far away. Surprisingly most people are reserved when asked if they like Obama. They respond saying I don't know yet. Then there are some bars or restaurants with big pictures of his face right next to Bob Marley's. I thought they would have liked him a lot, but people aren't so easily impressed with America it seems!

I would like to post more than this, but I don't know how available internet will be. For now, these are my impressions of Bali. I don't know where I am going next so I will post as things unfold.


Thursday, September 3, 2009


(This is from about a week ago)

Hello from Melbourne!

It's my third day in Australia, and I've made it from Coogee, Sydney to Melbourne. Coogee, a suburb of Sydney, is where I met up with a friend, Christopher Baldwin, who is studying there. It's a gorgeous spot on the beach which is out of the main hustle and bustle of Sydney. I arrived at 6 am so by the time I got out to Coogee it was around 8 and everyone was out exercising on the beach in groups with teachers. I stopped at a beachside spot called "Chish and Fips" and got some coffee. The woman at the shop was very nice and let me use her mobile to call Topher and tell him I was a block away. (I've found people are very nice here about giving directions, getting out their 'rollers' or giving me numbers of buses trains and trams) and then walked up to Topher's address. He lives with 3 other guys who are also studying. I shed my backpack and took off for the coastal cliff walk from Coogee to Bondi, which was absolutely gorgeous and zipping with joggers and walkers. It went through 4 different beaches and 4 different cliff points.

Things are pretty expensive here, a 30 pack of beer is about$35 US. A latte is $4. However, I managed to hit Coogee the right night- $2 steaks!

The next morning I woke up at 6 from the jet lag and ran out to the first cliff to catch the sunrise. I got it at about a half inch about the horizon over the ocean. Then I took my book back to the beach where already several different groups were exercising. People were swimming laps in the bay without wetsuits. It's the end of their winter right now. People were doing sprints back and forth. There was even a group of about 25 young girls in black and white uniform posing for a picture from dawn til about 10. I felt bad for them. I was deep into my book and letting the sun warm me up slowly as it rose.. and as sand sprayed on me I heard an Australian say, "Come on, I've been easy... let's get joggy!"

I raced to the Opera House later that morning with Topher. It was much bigger than I expected. And I took the train to the airport and left for Melbourne to meet some cousins who just moved here. They live right by the University of Melbourne in Carlton. Melbourne was colder and rainy, but it has a very good vibe with students everywhere and lots of authentic small chops and restaurants. I met up with my cousin Hannah and we walked through a park in her neighborhood. Her son, Silas (4) showed me where he found a possum's home in the hole of a tree.

We left the next day on a road trip organized by the one and only Sam Poore, Hannah's husband. He rented the car and the 4 of them and one me piled in to leave Melbourne and head to the Grampians national park where we all saw 2 emu and a big kangaroo at the vineyard we stopped at near Hall's Gap.

We continued to see many more 'roos all hangin out and grazing in the yard of our hostel ... we saw many parrots and an aechidna, which Sam was glad to find after he saw a glimpse of it and then started to question himself for minutes and wonder how he could be hallucinating at this point! It is part duck-billed platypus family and has spikes like a porcupine.

The next day we moved on to the southern Coastal Highway and drove by the Bay of Islands and the 12 Apostles.

It was magnificent with the huge rocky cliffs dropping down into tumultuous white and aqua surf and then scattered rocks still standing in the water.

It was a very quick trip to such a big place. The people were very friendly helping me work the trains, trams, and buses. Now off to Bali and southeast Asia...